Zsolnay Cultural Complex
Arriving at the Zsolnay Quarter you enter such a site of cultural and industrial history where every single building, room or even brick is richly interwoven by the art of past eras; the history of the city, the country or even Europe.
Vilmos Zsolnay established his factory during the years after the Hungarian war of independence, then, in the decades of consolidation, in the second half of the 19th century he revived it to such an extent that it became the largest ceramic factory of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They produced household items and ornamental vessels, building ceramics, tiles for fireplaces, electric insulators and stone-clay tubesalike, however, production was only a tool for Vilmos; it provided the basis for his passionate innovative work. His inventions, porcelain faiance and the eosin technology made the name Zsolnay world-famous, while pyrogranite inspired a new unique trend of architecture at the turn of the 19-20th centuries, the Hungarian Art Nouveau, where the great architects of the era, including Ödön Lechner and Marcell Komor, leaped at the opportunity.
After several economic downturns, world wars, revolutions and foreign occupations the factory still exists, however, not only as a productive plant but revived also as a cultural centre: this is the present-day Zsolnay Cultural Quarter.
At the site where the family and the community of the factory used to be working, on an area of almost five acres such a venue was established that is worthy of the past, but includes the creative future as well. Come and visit us. It is not only us who invite you, but also the members of a dynasty: the heroic founder, Vilmos Zsolnay, who pursued his experiments with extraordinary obsession, his creative artist daughters, Teréz and Júlia, his son, Miklós, the self-conscious dandy, the grandchildren who continued the traditions, and the present-day members of the family including the generation of great-great grandchildren and their children. This place is the representative memorial of the heroic past of Hungarian industry, the cradle of Hungarian applied arts.
From the founder to the Zsolnay Cultural Quarter
The glory of the legendary beginning is due to both family solidarity and chance. Vilmos Zsolnay made his living by his department store in the centre of Pécs; he was a successful merchant, and could have spent all his life in the comfort offered by permanent civil stability. However, the suburban pottery workshop of his elder brother, Ignác went bankrupt, and he invested his capital into the business to save his brother. But Ignác soon moved abroad, so Vilmos was forced to seriously deal with the surviving company, and perhaps he did not realize the moment when the workshop was no longer a burdensome obligation, but something that made his life meaningful. There was no stopping. The creative part of his personality suppressed earlier grabbed the opportunity, and threw himself into research happily. He was never satisfied with the results achieved, he immediately reinvested the profits generated in development. He brought professionals and artists from Europe, and later launched a training program in the school of the factory, borrowed money, expanded the plant, experimented, and soon the one-time workshop of seventeen worker became a large-scale factory employing 700 people. World-fame has arrived, large orders were placed, still, he lived just like before: had no money like before since he reinvested everything, and devoted his whole life to the factory as much as before.
New glazes, new furnace types, experimentation with new combustion procedures followed each other, while a decorative art with magical colors and shapes was born from the treasury of oriental, archaic and folk motifs. The production of luxury items was a loss, but the Zsolnay vases and tableware glittering in the parks and salons of Europe attracted industrial orders and their profits maintained the production and development of decorative goods. This is how the colourful fairy-tale world, the lush beauty of Art Nouveau and the electrical and drainage industry nourished each other, just like the solid, frost-proof architectural ceramics indirectly contributed to the manufacturing of the sixty-person gold brocade table tableware made for an Italian aristocrat.
In the 20-21st century, the factory had to survive not only the nationalization, and the post-privatization ownership changes, but also the decline in demand due to the change of gift habits and the perception of well-decorated pottery. And the factory survived it all indeed, however, it could not work anymore the way it used to do – the shrinking production plant offered an area for creating a venue including exhibitions, museums, lecture halls, a planetarium, and even campus buildings.
This opportunity has been realised by the Pécs 2010 European Capital of Culture project. Besides protecting historic buildings, the task was to develop a cultural, educational and tourist centre, which organizes recreational activities for children and adults of Pécs, while providing home to the fine arts, music and communications institutions of the university.